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Almost everyone was an AIDS-denier when the epidemic began, claims Russell T Davies

Patrick Kelleher January 18, 2021
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Russell T Davies on biggest challenge to casting gay actors in gay roles

British television screenwriter and director Russell T Davies. (Getty/Colin McPherson)

Russell T Davies has said that everyone was an AIDS-denier when the HIV epidemic first began in the 1980s.

The screenwriter made his comments during an interview for his new drama It’s a Sin, which follows a group of gay men in the 1980s as they deal with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic.

In one clip from the series, main character Ritchie Tozer (played by Years & Years singer Olly Alexander) spouts conspiracy theories about the emerging illness, branding it “a pack of lies” and a “money-making scheme for drug companies”.

“Do you seriously think there is an illness that only kills gay men? It can calculate that you’re gay and kill you, but only if you’re gay and no one else?” Tozer says in the series.

“What about bisexuals? Do they only get sick every other day?”

Ritchie thinks that HIV was created in Russia, created by a laboratory, sent by God, all those stories.

Speaking about that clip, Davies told BBC News that everyone was an AIDS denier when the epidemic was just beginning.

“That’s episode two, where we were all debunking it,” Davies said.

“Ritchie thinks that HIV was created in Russia, created by a laboratory, sent by God, all those stories.

“They were there in the 1980s with no internet to spread it. We’re just mad. The human race has such a battle with its own intelligence.”

Russell T Davies wanted It’s a Sin to represent the AIDS-deniers

Davies said Ritchie’s character has been called an AIDS-denier because of his belief in conspiracy theories about the virus – but he wasn’t alone.

“You think, no, the point is, we all were [AIDS deniers]. He’s representing everyone who said that,” Davies said.

“Activists, people who were ahead of the game, tried to leave information in pubs. They’d leave leaflets, and landlords would throw them out. Gay landlords would throw them out of gay pubs, thinking they were trying to scare people, thinking they were trying to stop sex, thinking it was an anti-gay movement.

“So it was a really powerful thing. That’s why I’m delighted that I got to write episode two because that’s the point of that episode, the denial. And then they all very quickly learned that it is a true thing.”

Russell T Davies said that Ritchie’s gradual move towards acceptance of the AIDS epidemic reflects “how much attention I paid to it – which was none at first”.

He said the virus started “like a strange rumour on the horizon” and that it felt like “something American”.

“We felt very distant. It literally felt like it got closer and closer and closer, until it was on your doorstep, until it was taking away people you loved.

“Eventually, simply – it must have been around the mid to late 80s – you know someone who’s got it and dies.”

 

Related topics: AIDS, Gay, HIV, HIV/AIDS, It's a Sin, Olly Alexander, russell t davies

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